In between coffee and oatmeal, I heard something fascinating, an examination of how many times the President and Mrs. Obama used the personal pronoun in their remarks to the Olympic Committee a few days ago. This bothered someone (George Will?), and it seemed to irritate the cast of characters at Morning Joe, even though they on the whole supported the President's trip to promote Chicago bid to host the Olympics.
And it occurred to me, this is another example of the break-points between modern and post-modern culture. My experience of post-modern culture and church is that it's more about narrative and depth and that, by necessity, includes telling our personal stories.
Not that people haven't told their stories. Listen to any young/new pastor trying to make the adjustment to visiting elderly parishioners, shocked that they repeat their stories. (As if younger people don't…) But we haven't typically told them in political speeches or sermons. This is new.
Not too long ago I watched a short video from workingpreacher.org in which the presenter insisted that sermons ought not include personal stories.
If that's the standard, I may as well hang up the preaching shoes and get a job at Starbucks. I mean, I *can* write a sermon without a personal story, but that is simply not the way the Spirit works in and through me. If you are friends with me on Facebook and noted the conversation I had on this topic, you'll know it really left me questioning what I do and how I do it.
But last week, I got some feedback that helped a lot, in a meeting with the Pastoral Relations Committee, where a lay person told me that when I preach at Y1P there are many people who speak to her and say how much they like the way I do it, particularly the way everyday things are woven together with the word of God to create a whole.
Thank you, Jesus. That was helpful.
And it occurs to me that there is a difference between narcissism or testimony and putting things in context. We don't live in a world anymore where we can assume shared experiences. If a pastor of 40 years talks about the movies or the music that meant something to him, without setting up the context, his sermon may well feel irrelevant to people who don't share his cultural understandings.
I do agree that testimony is tricky if only the pastor employs it. If I've had a spectacular spiritual experience, and you haven't, and I preach about it, I'm not necessarily encouraging you to believe you'll have one or to seek one (as if most of us can). More likely I'm creating a two-tiered system in which I am the "holy" person with the mystical experiences and the people in the pews are the audience.
To go back to the Obamas, I love the way they employ their life stories in their interpretation of where we are today and where we hope to be. We don't live in a world comprised only of intact, white Protestant families. But those of us who grew up in those families need to hear stories other than our own.
My children grew up, are growing up, in what we used to call a broken home. They would be considered at risk, according to various studies, for early sexual acting out and truancy and academic failure and all sorts of things you would never want your kids to face. After the divorce, #1 Son did not want anyone to identify him as a kid whose parents had divorced. (Chime in if you read this and think that's wrong, #1 Son, but I believe that's an accurate telling.) He was able to maintain that sort of Twilight Zone because we kept things calm and reasonable, The Father of My Children and I, and because when Pure Luck came into the family, he took his time with the kids and did not try to be someone he was not in relationship to them.
We've defied statistics. I'm thankful for that.
But a speech that is just about that ends up sounding like a major case of hubris, dangerously so, and I would rather normalize my family's experience for others by referring to it slant-wise, not making a report about it.
I'm in favor of telling our stories, of broadening our collective understanding of how people live, of testifying to our practical reality and our spiritual hopes and our social dreams.